COLUMBIA — Even in victory a single bouncing pitch in the dirt rarely earns a man stardom, but following his pregame performance, Carl E. Bolte Jr., could not escape Taylor Stadium.
There to throw out the ceremonial first pitch and watch his beloved Missouri Tigers hand an 11-7 defeat to Kansas State on Saturday, Bolte stood from his seat down the third base line and offered a big wave to the scoreboard operations booth before attempting his exit, but the gesture had sealed his fate, certainly costing him at least a half-hour. Fortunately, he didn’t seem to mind.
As a crowd of children gathered around him, clamoring for an autograph on a schedule or a hat or anything at all, Bolte beamed.
“I feel like a star,” Bolte said.
Although many of them didn’t know exactly who he is, the reaction of the kids seemed to bring the old man great joy. Given his effort, he was even a bit surprised.
“I think it was the worst pitch I ever saw anybody throw from the pitcher’s mound in my whole life,” Bolte said of his not-so fastball. “I had to have my arm iced down after that.”
Whether they knew it or not, Bolte deserved their attention. They could have wanted his autograph because he was a U.S. Naval captain, a veteran of Korea and Vietnam, or maybe because he used to have his own campus dance band back in the 1950s. They could have wanted to talk to him because he has written more than 1,000 songs, including one of Missouri’s three primary fight songs, “Give a Cheer for Mizzou’s Tigers,” and has produced a handful of CDs. If they knew their history, they could have even wanted it because he was a backup catcher for the Tigers during the 1955 season, and was a teammate of Norm Stewart.
Instead, they wanted it because of his electric and engaging personality, his unusual “Poor Boy” hat complete with a fuzzy red ball on top, and, well, because everyone else did.
Although both he and his wife, Jane, were ready to head back home to Kansas City, he couldn’t resist their pleas. He signed autographs on their backs, and asked them what positions they played, grabbing their tiny arms if they pitched and asking about their swing if they were sluggers.
Although his recap of his time with the Tigers is brief (“I caught a lot of batting practice.”), Bolte has had his eye on his former club, and one player in particular.
“We saw the game in Kansas City on Tuesday night, and he was just terrific,” Bolte said of Trevor Coleman, the sophomore playing his position more than 50 years later. “He made a throw to second base that I wish I’d have done when I’d been playing. I think he’s an unusual player, don’t you?”
In a short time, it becomes apparent that Bolte also knows what you want to think, whether you’re talking about where you’re from or what the team is doing.
“Oh, don’t you,” Bolte inquires when asked if his Tigers will make the College World Series. “I think so. The hitting is coming around. They had a dark spell for a while ... gosh they went into a hitting slump that I didn’t understand, but that happens to teams.”
As Bolte made his break for the car, having escaped the autograph hounds, he talked of how the rest of the Big 12 Conference is doing, pointing out Texas A&M as the team to beat, while discounting Nebraska and Oklahoma State as inferior to Missouri’s squad, building confidence in his final response: “I think they’re Omaha bound.”